This post was written for Daily Hive by Michael Letendre.
Vancouver is experiencing a record number of homeless people this year, and with temperatures dropping and need for shelter rising, social service providers are feeling squeezed more than ever.
This year’s homeless count showed Vancouver’s homeless population had risen by 6% from 2015, bringing it to the highest it’s ever been ever since the count started in 2005. Of the homeless surveyed for the annual count, 56% have come to Vancouver from out of province.
Outreach worker Jasen Hamilton has been working as a front line worker at The Salvation Army Harbour Light for the past three years. He said that demand for shelter is higher than he’s ever seen.
“We’re extremely busy this year,” he said. “All our shelters are full pretty much everyday including our mat program. We’re housing over 200 people every night and we’re still seeing an average of 10 to 20 people turned away everyday who are looking for beds.”
Hamilton said he has also been seeing a lot of new faces coming through the shelter. “We’ve definitely noticed there are more people coming here from out of province,” he said. “Lately we see a lot of people coming from Alberta looking for work.”
It’s more than just the hope of finding a job that bring homeless to Vancouver, Hamilton said, it’s also the weather.
“People would much rather spend winter here than in some of the other provinces where it’s freezing and there’s more snow. Those things can mean life and death if you don’t have a place to stay.”
Long-time homeless advocate Ann Livingston said the limited options for those who come to Vancouver with nowhere to stay leave many with no choice but to sleep outside.
“I’ve lived here a long time. There’s been gradual increases but this year’s the worst I’ve ever seen in terms of just the volume of people that are just sitting, laying, tenting in various states of disrepair, clearly with no place to sleep,” she said.
For those who do find shelter and want to move into housing, Livingston said there are few places available. Subsidized housing through B.C. Housing typically has a three year waiting list, and there are few other options for someone on income assistance.
“We are seeing a tightening of what’s available. Anything that was available before, isn’t now. People are staying where they are because there’s no real place for them to move to,” Livingston said
Livingston believes that there has not been done enough to accommodate even the basic needs of the homeless in Vancouver.
“If you have nowhere to go to the bathroom for long enough and you sleep outside for long enough, you will be picked up by an ambulance. It’s just inevitable,” she said. “It’s straight up deprivation.”
“In this neighbourhood you can always get a cop, you can always get an ambulance and you can always get a fireman. But you can’t even get a place to go inside an take a shit.”
Vancouver has had a record breaking amount of rainy days already this year, and with a long-range forecast of near constant rain, shelters and service providers can expect to continue to be stretched to meet demand this winter.